Highlighting juvenile prospects in Ellis Park Sunday stakes

A pair of $100,000 stakes races for two-year-olds will take place at Ellis Park on Sunday. The Juvenile for the boys attracted seven and boasts a few interesting youngsters for now, and potentially, the future.

Night Time (#1) (5-1) drew the rail and was impressive on debut with a wire-to-wire score on this course for the red-hot Dale Romans barn. The chestnut son of Majesticperfection broke best despite getting the innermost post slot in that offering and has trained forwardly since.

The $210,000 yearling buy could be a nice one going forward. His dam is a full sister to Grade 2 heroine Emotional Kitten, who also placed in the 2013 American Oaks (G1) and Del Mar Oaks (G1).

Trainer Ian Wilkes doesn’t saddle many debut winners, so when Letmeno (#2) (6-1) won at first asking despite breaking last we took notice. Gray son of Twirling Candy is out of a stakes vixen who is a half-sister to 2010 Alcibiades Stakes (G1) queen Wickedly Perfect.

April foal will be coming from off the pace on Sunday with Calvin Borel back in the saddle. He might be a horse that we hear a lot of in 2019 and beyond.

Axiomo (#3) (7-2) was a bargain $20,000 purchase as a yearling and is unbeaten from a pair of career outings. Tapiture colt is a sibling to 2019 Davona Dale Stakes (G2) princess Jeltrin and could add to the stakes glory of this family.

Rowdy Yates (#4) (9-5) is the morning-line choice off the strength of a sharp maiden win, followed by a stubborn second in the Bashford Manor (G3) for Steve Asmussen. Morning Line colt acts more like a one-turn horse at this stage of his development, but he is obviously talented will be tough to defeat in this stakes venture.

The Debutante Stakes will feature 11 two-year-old fillies vying in a seven-furlong affair. Lady Glamour (#4) (5-2) is two-for-three lifetime, which includes a daylight allowance romp at Ellis Park most recently. The stakes-placed daughter of Discreet Cat is not from a rich family, but the precocious lass looks like a prime player on Sunday for Larry Demeritte.

Spitefulness (#6) (10-1) was a winner second time out at Presque Isle Downs and received a barn change to Phil D’Amato prior to this endeavor. The first foal out of 2015 Davona Dale Stakes (G2) queen Ekati’s Phaeton is bred for speed and is from the same female line as 2011 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G2) star Regally Ready.

Green Destiny (#7) (5-1) graduated in her second appearance with a game win at Ellis Park. Trained by Steve Asmussen, she is out of a stakes victress who counts herself a half-sister to Callback, who bagged the 2015 Las Virgenes Stakes (G1).

The filly descends from a solid female line that produced her sire, 2010 Kentucky Derby (G1) champ Super Saver.

Don’t Mine Me (#11) (20-1) is an interesting long-term prospect. The Mineshaft filly is a longshot in the Debutante, but the Kentucky-bred is cut out to be a nice one down the road. The bay is a descendant of an ultra-successful Phipps breeding line tracing back to champion Lady Pitt et al’s.

PHOTO: Ellis Park (c) Coady Photography/Ellis Park

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Saratoga Scouting Report: Kentucky Horses for Sunday, August 18

With Churchill Downs coming off perhaps their strongest spring meet in history, the horses based in Kentucky should perform even better than they have in years past.

Chances are, in many cases, they won’t get the respect they deserve. There is value to be had, but on the flipside, some of the Kentucky invaders might not be as good as they look on paper.

That’s what I’m here for.

For the entirety of the Saratoga meet, I will provide “scouting reports” for the Kentucky-based horses – good, bad and indifferent.

Horses are listed in order of preference, with a short comment playability notation in the wrap.

Race 2 – SUGAR CUBE (#4) (8-1)

On May 23 over a wet fast track at Churchill, she enjoyed a clear trip in the two-path behind a hot pace over a one-turn mile, was moving on the turn in hand before being hung five-wide, she had aim on the leaders, but evened out to finish third. In the follow-up start on June 7 over a more preferred 1 1/16 miles, she was in tight between horses early behind a slow pace, was covered up on the rail, and then failed to fire.

Comment: Eight-year-old mare has won 17 races and now adds blinkers for the first time in what will be her 57th start. Seven furlongs is not her best game, but she fits at the level against a suspect group of foes. Lean towards fading her, but could go either way.

Race 4 – EAST MOON (#8) (8-1)

In her most recent start at Churchill, she broke alertly, stalked a controlled pace from the pocket, and ran on late to finish second behind the 2-1 favorite.

Comment: A career hanger on dirt, she’s actually been more competitive in her limited starts on turf. Worth using only if you’re against Coffee Crush (#6) (2-1), but I’d prefer the German invader Matida (#4) (7-5) and the speedy riser Pugilist (#3) (5-2) over her.

Race 8 – JOY OF TREASURE (#6) (7-2)

On paper, she ran the best race of her life last out, but there are reasons for that. First of all, she enjoyed a clean trip behind a hot pace, and secondly, it wasn’t the strongest race for the level.

Comment: She fits very well under starter allowance conditions on turf and it looks like she’ll have an honest pace to kick at. Looks like a must use, but tough to lean on.

Race 9 – SKEPTIC (#6) (15-1)

This filly has had plenty of ups and downs in her career. When she fits, she often runs well. When it appears that she’s overmatched on paper, she usually runs that way. Her last two starts are a perfect example. On June 15, she lost two lengths at the start but enjoyed a perfect, pressing trip thereafter. In hand off the turn, she drew off as much the best. Last out in the Fleur de Lis Handicap (G2), she led through pedestrian fractions but gave way once headed.

Comment: A win looks like a very tough ask, but her speed is important to the pace scenario. Can’t see using her for multi-race purposes, only as a filler at the back end of the tri or super.

PHOTO: Saratoga (c) Horsephotos.com

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Ellis Park Pick 3 plays for Sunday, August 18

A strong 10-race card will be hosted by Ellis Park on Sunday with a pair of stakes events for juveniles on tap. The co-features are the $100,000 Ellis Park Juvenile and $100,000 Ellis Park Debutante. While I will cover those races with more detail in another piece, I did find a few good betting opportunities on the card that I will attack.

The Pick-3 sequence starting in Race 4 has appeal to me. A one-mile maiden special weight contest lacks a lot of depth to kick things off, and going two-deep with Sultry Samurai (#1) (5-2) and Winnipesaukee (#2) (7-5) seems logical. It’s not sexy but one of the two should prevail.

The 5TH Race is for fillies and mares going six panels on the dirt. I would not be overly surprised by any  outcome in the affair and I will click the “all” button in the second leg.

A competitive race for two-year-olds closes out the sequence. The special weight dash features prospects from powerful barns and I will use two to conclude the ticket.

Continental Clash (#3) (7-2) is from the red-hot barn of Dale Romans and was a $550,000 Fasig-Tipton March purchase. The Tiznow colt shows swift morning moves at Churchill Downs in preparation of his debut.

I have a strong hunch about the debuting Wheat King (#6) (5-1) from the Mark Casse shedrow. The Chiefswood Stables’ homebred is also by Tiznow, and his dam is a half-sister to a pair of precocious graded winners. Declan Cannon will ride.

If I am fortunate enough to collect on that wager I will roll my money over on the late Pick 3 starting in the 8TH Race. Here are my preferred runners in the final three contests (with my top pick in italics):

Race 8 – Night Time (#1) (5-1), Letmeno (#2) (6-1), Rowdy Yates (#4) (9-5)

Race 9 – Lady Glamour (#4) (5-2), Spitefullness (#6) (10-1), Green Destiny (#7) (5-1), Dixie Mo (#9) (4-1)

Race 10 — Berning Report (#1) (4-1), Avenida Manana (#2) (8-1), It’s Complicated (#4) (7-2) and You People (#9) (10-1)


Race 4
$1 Pick 3: 1,2 with all with 3,6 = $24

Race 8
50-cent Pick 3: 1,2,4 with 4,6,7,9 with 1,2,4,9 = $24

Good Luck!

PHOTO: Ellis Park (c) Coady Photography/Ellis Park

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Quip the key in all-stakes Del Mar Pick 3

Unfortunately, there is no all-graded stakes Pick 4 on the latter half of Saturday’s Del Mar program. Instead, we’ll concentrate on the Pick 3 that runs from the Torrey Pines (G3) through the Pacific Classic (G1) and look to beat seemingly vulnerable favorites in all three legs.

Race 8 — Torrey Pines

#1 INTO CHOCOLATE (10-1) is the least experienced of the group but also has the most upside. Dam is a half to multiple Grade 1 winner Harmonious and this filly adds blinkers after finishing second against allowance foes after an untimely stumble at the start. Pace scenario looks favorable. #3 COLONIAL CREED (8-1) was third of five in the Summertime Oaks (G2) in late May, her dirt debut. Enters fresh and is a seasoned two-turn performer.

Race 9 — Del Mar Oaks (G1)

#2 MAXIM RATE (20-1) hasn’t been nearly as effective in her last two as she was earlier this spring, but price is definitely right on a filly that showed plenty of class on this circuit before. #11 LADY PRANCEALOT (8-1) is rarely out of the mix and could provide a potent late kick. #10 MUCHO UNUSUAL (5-1) is three-for-three on turf and can pretty much win from anywhere. #7 DOGTAG (8-1) is the “lesser” half of the Chad Brown shippers, but don’t think she had an optimal run in an intramural, three-horse race in the Lake George (G3) last time.

Race 10 — Pacific Classic

With morning line favorite Seeking the Soul not always reliable outside Churchill Downs, #2 QUIP (9-2) is the pick to adapt best to the ship west. Much improved this year and often tough as nails in a stretch battle.

The $1 ticket:

1,3 with 2,7,10,11 with 2 = $8

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Handicapping Saturday’s cross-country Pick 5

Five graded stakes races from Saratoga and Del Mar comprise today’s cross-country Pick 5 wager. Here are my thoughts on the sequence and a couple of tickets I will play:

Leg 1, Lake Placid (Race 9 Saratoga)

After showing solid class while still a maiden last year, Varenka (1) has won two of three starts in 2019. She didn’t receive a good trip in the lone setback, finishing third in the Regret (G3) at Churchill Downs, but rebounded nicely when capturing a salty allowance at the Spa on July 14. The Ghostzapper filly overcame a wide trip and slow pace to get up by a neck over the promising Catch a Bid from the Chad Brown stable last year and I like the progress Varenka has displayed for Graham Motion. She’ll earn her first stakes win today.

I’ll use Brown’s pair, Blowout (4) and Regal Glory (5), and Feel Glorious (6) on my second ticket.

Leg 2, Alabama (Race 10 Saratoga)

Dunbar Road (1) appears built to relish longer distances and has easily disposed of the competition in three-of-four starts, notching her first stakes triumph with a 2 ½-length decision in the June 29 Mother Goose (G2) most recently. With her tactical speed, Dunbar Road figures to receive a plum trip behind a slow pace before offering her best.

Ulele (6) could be lone speed after a tough rail draw in the Iowa Oaks and Point of Honor (7) brings commendable form to the race. I’ll save with both on the first ticket.

Leg 3, Del Mar Handicap (Race 7 Del Mar)

A solid field of nine has been assembled for the 1 3/8-mile turf affair and I’m giving a slight edge to United (5), who makes his second stakes attempt for Richard Mandella off a smart allowance tally earlier in the meet. The Great Day (6) scratched out of the Arlington Million (G1) in favor of this spot and should appreciate the added distance and softer company. A solid second last out, the Argentinean import makes his third start off the layoff for Arnaud Delacour. Acclimate (9) will be tested for class but I don’t see a lot of speed present. Like the addition of Florent Geroux and the Phil D’Amato-trained gelding recorded a pair of wire-to-wire wins before cutting back into a speed-filled race last time. Intriguing at 12-1 on the morning line.

All three will be used.

Leg 4, Del Mar Oaks (Race 9 Del Mar)

Cambier Parc (1) is the one to beat off a fine third to Concrete Rose in the Belmont Oaks (G1). I like how the Brown trainee took advantage of a solid pace in the Wonder Again (G3) two back, rallying to win going away, and the Medaglia d’Oro filly should receive the proper set-up with John Velazquez. Hard Legacy (4) improved nicely when stretching out to today’s 1 1/8-mile distance last time, recording her first stakes tally with a 1 1/4-length decision in the Regret, and is eligible to carry her form forward for Norm Casse. Easy to envision the Hard Spun filly receiving a favorable trip just behind the early leaders and Hard Legacy should poised to strike turning for home.

Two deep on Pick 5 tickets.

Leg 5, Pacific Classic (Race 10 Del Mar)

The 1 ¼-mile event lacks pace and Quip (2) can take advantage. After utilizing stalk-and-pounce tactics to capture the Oaklawn H. (G2) two back, the four-year-old colt contested the pace from the start of the Stephen Foster (G2) and grudgingly gave way late to finish a neck second to the late-running Seeking the Soul. I like the progress he’s making for Rodolphe Brisset, generating 104 and 116 BRIS Late Pace ratings in the last two starts as well as a career-best 104 Speed last time, and Quip should be able to save plenty for the latter stages here. I won’t be surprised to see him loose on the lead.

The potential exists for an upset and I’ll include Tenfold (7), who never fired in the Foster but remains dangerous if he can sit closer in the early stages; and Mongolian Groom (9), who enters on the upswing following a runner-up in the San Diego (G2).

Cross-Country Pick 5 Tickets

I will keep the budget to $54 with the following tickets (50-cent denomination):

Ticket 1: 1 with 1,6,7 with 5,6,9 with 1,4 with 2,7,9 ($27)

Ticket 2: 4,5,6 with 1 with 5,6,9 with 1,4 with 2,7,9 ($27)

Good luck!

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Promising Two-Year-Olds take center stage at Ellis Park

The Road to both the 2020 Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1) doesn’t officially begin until September 14 at Churchill Downs, but Sunday’s pair of juvenile stakes at Ellis Park do serve as a direct entrance ramp to the journey that is about to unfold.

Run over seven furlongs of dirt, the $100,000 TwinSpires Ellis Park Juvenile and $100,000 TwinSpires Ellis Park Debutante set the table for the Pocahontas (G2) for the girls and Iroquois (G3) for the boys, both of which are contested at 1 1/16 miles.

In addition to serving as the first points races for the Derby and Oaks the Pocahontas and Iroquois are also Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge races, with the winners receiving an entry fees-paid berth in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) and Juvenile (G1) on November 1 at Santa Anita Park.

Last year, the Tom Amoss-trained Serengeti Empress took the Ellis Park Debutante by 13 1/2 lengths. A month later, she romped by 19 1/2 lengths in the Pocahontas, and on the first Friday in May, she wired the field in the Kentucky Oaks.

In 2016, Lookin at Lee won the Ellis Park Juvenile for trainer Steve Asmussen in advance of a runner-up finish in the Iroquois and an eventual second-place run behind Always Dreaming in the 2017 Kentucky Derby.

On hiatus since 2009, a recent surge in Kentucky purses inspired the revival of both Ellis Park juvenile stakes, and the overall two-year-old program in recent years has improved immensely, with top Kentucky-based trainers opting to stay local in lieu of shipping their young stock to summer at Saratoga.

Scouting the stars of the future is the most satisfying part of my job, so let’s dive right in!

Race 8 – The Ellis Park Juvenile

Horse to Beat

ROWDY YATES (#4) (9-5)

Trainer Steve Asmussen has won this race two of the last three years, taking down the 2016 edition with Lookin at Lee and last year’s with Tobacco Road. This year he sends out the likely favorite.

Bet down to the 2-1 second choice in his career debut on May 31 at Churchill, he pressed an even pace, too full command while still in hand on the turn, responded when asked and drew off.

The second betting favorite in his follow-up start in the Bashford Manor (G3) under the Twin Spires, he once again enjoyed a perfect pressing trip, but this time through more honest fractions against a much tougher crew. He ran on willingly, but was narrowly outkicked by the California invader Phantom Boss.

Purchased for $42,000 as an October Fasig-Tipton yearling, he is by Morning Line and the first foal out of the unraced Yes It’s True mare Spring Station, who is a half to Grade 3-winning sprinter Rich Mommy.


AXIOMO (#3) (7-2)

By the impressive first-crop sire Tapiture ($20,000 Fasig Tipton October yearling) and conditioned by the under-the-radar trainer Mikhail Yanakov, this upstart two-year-old has been ultra-impressive in winning both of his starts.

Sent off at odds of 45-1 while sprinting on turf in his career debut at Churchill Downs, he left from post position 10 of 11, was stuck in tight between horses behind an even pace, was steadied back in traffic, popped out late, got the jump on his late closing rivals, led, held safe and galloped out best.

In his follow-up start on dirt at Indiana Grand, he was in a bit tight while stalking an even pace early, split horses entering the turn while still in hand, had the leader measured at the top of the stretch, took over on the wrong lead, switched mid-stretch, and drew off solidly best.

Out of the Successful Appeal mare Song to the Moon, he is a half-brother to filly Jeltrin, who upset the Davona Dale (G2) this past spring.

NIGHT TIME (#1) (5-1)

A big supporter of the Ellis Park juvenile program, trainer Dale Romans won the 2017 edition of the Ellis Park Juvenile with the very promising Dak Attack, and earlier this meet in what was certainly a WOW performance, his Dennis’ Moment broke his maiden in Henderson by some 19 1/4 lengths.

Romans is represented here by a son of Majesticperfection ($210,000 Keeneland September yearling) out of the Kitten’s Joy mare Silent Joy. The dam has some quality to her family, but it certainly tilts towards turf.

In his career debut on June 30, this colt broke alertly, was pinned at the rail while battling a pair of rivals through honest fractions, he responded when asked and disposed of his challengers before drawing away under a drive to a 4 1/2-length score.

LETMENO (#2) (6-1)

The past five years, trainer Ian Wilkes has won with just 15 of his 277 first time starters (5%), but when it does happen, the horse is often quite talented. McCraken, Cicatrix and most recently With Dignity come to mind.

In most cases, the barn’s first and only goal with a first timer is to provide a lesson-learning experience, and early in his career debut on July 13, that looked to be the case with this son of Twirling Candy ($70,000 Keeneland September yearling).

A half to the useful sprinter Summerduck, he’s out of the Mizzen Mast dam Wicked Mizz, a minor stakes winner who had a promising career cut short. That mare is also a half to 2010 Alcibiades Stakes (G1) victress Wickedly Perfect, so there is some sneaky quality to the family.

In his debut, a race that certainly was more meant to serve as an educational tool, he broke six lengths slow, sat chilly while in the clear behind an even pace at the back of the pack, built momentum while still in hand on the turn for home while hung four-wide and finished slightly best.

The Longshot

TWO LAST WORDS (#6) (8-1)

A debut winner at Indiana Grand, this homebred son of the $7,500 stallion Commissioner would return to finish a better-than-it-looks fourth in the Bashford Manor (G3) at Churchill Downs. Hung three-wide early and five-wide late, he finished willingly to the wire. Last out back at Indiana Grand, he stumbled badly at the start, was shuffled back and then finished with renewed energy off the turn for home.

Top Pick: Rowdy Yates (#4) (9-5)
Best Longshot: Two Last Words (#6) (8-1)
Others to Consider (in order of preference): Axiomo (#3) (7-2), Night Time (#1) (5-1) and Letmeno (#2) (6-1)

Race 9 – The Ellis Park Debutante

Horse to Beat

LADY GLAMOUR (#4) (5-2)

Entered in a $40,000 maiden claimer on debut at Churchill Downs, this daughter of Discreet Cat was dismissed at odds of 26-1. Off slowly losing four lengths at the start, she was stuck between horses while racing four-wide. Seven-wide on the turn, she rallied off heels while on the wrong lead to spring the upset. One had every right to be skeptical of the win which came against a suspect group over a track that favored runners who ran wide and off the pace, but this gal certainly legitimized herself in a pair of follow-up starts.

Once again overlooked at 33-1, she would finish a deceivingly good third behind the highly regarded Magic Dance in the Debutante Stakes at Churchill Downs. Stalking a fast pace while four-wide, she ran on willingly behind a talented pair, and take note that the Debutante was run three-fifths of a second faster than the Bashford Manor (G3) for the boys.

In a recent allowance race at Ellis Park, she settled last in the field of six early on, made a bold move when nudged while five-wide on the turn, took over in a blink under a strong hand ride leaving the highly regarded favorite Josie in her wake, and crossed the line by open lengths with plenty in reserve.

Just a $1,000 yearling purchase, she’s already proven to be quite the bargain.

The Contenders

HIS GLORY (#1) (6-1)

Much like last year’s winner Serengeti Empress, this daughter of Mineshaft ($52,000 Keeneland September yearling) broke her maiden at first asking by open lengths at Indiana Grand before disappointing in the Schuylerville Stakes (G3) at Saratoga.

There are some sprint influences in the pedigree, but nothing to get overly excited about.

The Asmussen Factor

GREEN DESTINY (#7) (5-1) and MILLI STARR (#10) (8-1) are capable of hitting the board, but chances are, based on the connections, both will be over-bet.

The former chased the super talented Frank’s Rockette on debut. After breaking alertly, she was forced to check out of it early, but was under a ride thereafter without making an impact. She did win her follow-up start at Ellis, but was all out to do so against a very average field of foes.

The latter chased home stablemate Magic Dance in her first try. After losing two lengths at the start, she rushed up to show speed and then quickly backed out of it. She won her follow-up assignment in a fine performance at Ellis, but then proved to be no factor behind Lady Glamour in a recent allowance race.

The Longshot

MONEDAS DE ORO (#2) (20-1)

A game winner on debut at Indiana Grand, this daughter of the $20,000 sire Munnings who was purchased for just $3,500 as a Keeneland September yearling would face the boys in her follow-up start at Churchill. Bothered at the start and shuffled back, she failed to make a serious impact.

Once against entered to face males on July 3 at Indiana Grand, she gutted out a solid third-place finish, and last time out back with her own set, she scored a game, gate-to-wire win.

This gal has experience, speed and heart.

Top Pick: Lady Glamour (#4) (5-2)
Best Longshot: Monedas de Oro (#2) (20-1)
Others to Consider (in order of preference): His Glory (#1) (6-1),Milli Starr (#10) (8-1) and Green Destiny (#7) (5-1)

Other “Spot” Plays on the Sunday Ellis Park program

Race 2 –WILDWOOD DEJAVU (#3) (6-1)

Race 4 – WINNIPESAUKEE (#2) (7-5)

Race 5 – UPSET BREWING (#4) (5-1)

PHOTO: Rowdy Yates (c) Coady Photography/Churchill Downs

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Saratoga Scouting Report: Kentucky Horses for Saturday, August 17

With Churchill Downs coming off perhaps their strongest spring meet in history, the horses based in Kentucky should perform even better than they have in years past.

Chances are, in many cases, they won’t get the respect they deserve. There is value to be had, but on the flipside, some of the Kentucky invaders might not be as good as they look on paper.

That’s what I’m here for.

For the entirety of the Saratoga meet, I will provide “scouting reports” for the Kentucky-based horses – good, bad and indifferent.

Horses are listed in order of preference, with a short comment playability notation in the wrap.

Race 6 – HIGH CRIME (#11) (6-1)

On May 4 traveling seven furlongs at Churchill Downs, he battled a fast pace over a racetrack that favored off-the-pace types and tired to fourth late. Nine weeks later at Ellis Park, he stretched out around two turns for his first ever try on turf. He made a comfortable lead, was challenged on the turn, shook off the bids to draw clear again before being nabbed late.

Comment: May have needed that last start and enters this assignment off a bullet work. Sprints on turf for the first time and the pedigree suggests the trip may suit him to a tee. Will likely off some value in this spot. May be worth a play as well as an inclusion in multi-race wagers.

I CAN DO ANYTHING (#5) (6-1)

Two starts back in a turf sprint, he was hung three then four-wide while stalking an even pace. Hung six-wide on the turn, he maintained his momentum and proved best late. Stretched out to a mile in the follow-up start, he overcame an outside post to secure a perfect, spying trip over a turf course that slightly favored speed. He raced on the wrong lead in the stretch and proved third best behind a sharp winner.

Comment: Cuts back to a sprint and fits well. Useable in a spread situation.

COHETE ROJO (#12) (10-1)

A maiden turf sprint winner, he crossed the line first dashing over the Churchill Downs grass on May 10, only to be disqualified. Hustled away from the gate, he settled in the catbird’s seat behind a hot pace, popped outside, bumped a foe off the turn, and won a tough battle late (DQ). In the follow-up start on June 7, he lost two lengths at the start, stalked a moderate pace, was held up a bit on the turn, but had no punch thereafter.

Comment: Makes his first start back off a nine-week layoff and is marooned on the far outside. Would feel safe leaving him out.

Race 9 – WILDLIFE (#7) (10-1)

It was Rafael Bejarano’s only mount of the day, and this gal made it very much worth his while on June 28 at Churchill Downs. Sitting at the back of the pack on the rail behind a hot pace, she made a slingshot move five-wide on the turn and finished fastest of all while racing a bit greenly. In the follow-up start on July 26 at Ellis Park, she sat at the back of the pack behind super slow fractions, made a slingshot move on the turn, extended her stride, and blew past her overmatched rivals.

Comment: She’s a one-dimensional deep closer who is still learning, but it’s tough to deny the natural talent. Faces a much, much tougher task here, but she may have more to give. Seems more like a value horse underneath, but in the multi-race wagers she’s worth using a spread situation.

AMANDREA (#2) (15-1)

May 31 at Churchill Downs, she stalked a slow pace under a tight hold, made a bold move four-wide on the turn while still in hand, swooped to the lead, and proved solidly best. On July 6 at Ellis Park, she stalked a hot pace over a turf course that favored speed, made what looked to be a winning move on the turn for home, but she could not kick late with the forwardly placed winner.

Comment: Has been facing much, much softer competition. She hasn’t run fast enough to compete here and appears to be an easy toss.

Race 10 – STREET BAND (#5) (10-1)

In very tight early and shuffled back in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), she was hung five-wide behind and even pace over a track that slightly favored speed and failed to threaten thereafter. Nine weeks later in the Indiana Oaks (G3), she stalked a slow pace over a racetrack that favored speed, split rivals gamely on the turn for home, took over and drew off as much the best under a mild drive.

Comment: Love the fact that trainer Larry Jones continues to stick with jockey Sophie Doyle. This filly has posted a pair of sharp works since raced, and she’s not likely to get the respect she deserves here. Must use in multi-race wagers and worth an intra-race play at an expected fair price.

PHOTO: Saratoga starting gate (c) Harold Roth/Horsephotos.com

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Ellis Park Spot Plays for Saturday, August 17

In a battle with current leaders James Graham, Tyler Baze and Miguel Mena for the Ellis Park riding title, Corey Lanerie could make a bold move on Saturday.

Lanerie is absolutely loaded with live mounts, several of which I picked to win. Let’s focus on those.

Race 3 – JOYSOME (#5) (8-5)

Bet down to 9-5 favoritism on debut, this Brendan Walsh trainee got cooked in a hot pace sprinting on turf. The runner-up that day has since come back to win and this filly stretches out to a seven-furlong distance, that based on pedigree, she should prefer.

Race 5 – EVIL EYE (#4) (3-1)

Skychai homebred has progressed nicely in three career starts, all on turf. He has speed, but is rateable. He broke the maiden in professional fashion second out of the box, and returned to finish a solid third behind an accomplished pair of elders in his most recent assignment. He fits extremely well against fellow sophomores in this spot.

Race 6 – NIKKI BEACH (#4) (8-5)

A wide third on debut behind a pair of talented runners in an off-the-turf race, this $410,000 Keeneland yearling purchase returned to score a runaway victory in her follow-up start. She posted a sharp work between starts and can easily win right back.

Race 8 – LADY MCKENZIE (#10) (12-1)

This is more of a hunch play than anything. This will be only the third time trainer Jinks Fires has used Corey Lanerie in the last five years. Is this significant in a positive way? Maybe. Several other trainers who ride Lanerie regularly are represented in this race. Watch the toteboard for clues and take a close look at her in the paddock and post parade.

Race 9 – ISLAND SONG (#9) (6-5)

Knocking on the door on both turf and dirt, it looks like graduation day for this gelded song of Speightstown. In his grass debut two starts back, he made a bold middle move and ran on late behind a legit winner. Last time out he ran a similar race and fell less than a length short. He should find clear sailing from the outside post in this one.

Lanerie’s other Saturday mounts (with trainer)

Race 4 – HARVEY’S HONEY (#5) (8-1) (John Hancock)
Race 7 – TRAFFIC STOP (#2) (5-2) (Mike Maker)
Race 10 – LOOKIN AT BLESSING (#10) (8-1) (Jeff Barkley)

PHOTO: Ellis Park (c) Coady Photography/Ellis Park

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How to Bet the 2019 Pacific Classic

by J. Keeler Johnson

Saturday’s renewal of the $1 million Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar might not be the strongest in recent memory, but this 1 1/4-mile “Win & You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) is still shaping up to be a great betting race.

I’m excited to play the Pacific Classic in part because I’m planning to oppose morning-line favorites Seeking the Soul (#5) (3-1) and Pavel (#3) (7-2), at least for win purposes. Yes, they’re classy Grade 1 winners, but Seeking the Soul has yet to reproduce his best form away from Churchill Downs, and Pavel is an infrequent winner (3-for-17 lifetime) whom I’m hesitant to trust at a short price.

The slow and tiring nature of the Del Mar main track figures to place stamina at a premium, which is why I find Mongoliam Groom (#9) (20-1) appealing. His relentless, grinding style isn’t flashy, but it nearly carried him to victory in the 1 1/16-mile San Diego Handicap (G2) at Del Mar last month, when he rallied boldly to fall a length short of catching the highly regarded Catalina Cruiser.

For his effort, Mongolian Groom received a career-best 103 BRIS Speed rating (plus an eye-catching 109 Late Pace rating), and I suspect he’ll be even more dangerous while negotiating a longer distance in the Pacific Classic. Back in the spring, he finished game a third in the 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita Handicap (G1) behind Gift Box and McKinzie, earning a 101 BRIS Speed rating while finishing 1 3/4 lengths ahead of the future Cougar II Handicap (G3) winner Campaign (#8) (6-1).

So let’s ponder this – Mongolian Groom has run well against Catalina Cruiser and McKinzie, two horses who would be favored to win the Pacific Classic. He’s run well over the tricky track at Del Mar. And yet he’s 20-1 on the morning line?

At that price, I view Mongolian Groom as a significant overlay in the wagering, so a simple win bet would be a logical approach. But since I believe the morning-line favorites are vulnerable, I’ll instead key Mongolian Groom with “ALL” in the exacta. If Mongolian Groom cracks the top two and we catch another longshot for first or second place, the payoff could be huge.


$1 exacta: 9 with ALL ($9)
$2 exacta: ALL with 9 ($18)

Good luck!

PHOTO: Mongolian Groom (far outside, red cap) finished second to Catalina Cruiser in the San Diego Handicap (G2) on Saturday, July 20, 2019, at Del Mar © BENOIT PHOTO

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How to Bet the 2019 Del Mar Handicap

by J. Keeler Johnson

There are several classy, accomplished horses entered in Saturday’s $250,000 Del Mar Handicap (G2) at Del Mar, all of them vying for a “Win & You’re In” berth to the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).

Some bettors will be tempted to side with the old veteran Itsinthepost (#7) (7-2), a seven-time Grade 2 victor seeking his first victory since May 2018. Others will favor Marckie’s Water (#4) (7-2), late-running winner of the Charlie Whittingham Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park, or perhaps United (#5) (3-1), runner-up in the Whittingham and a recent allowance winner at Del Mar.

I can’t argue with anyone who wants to support these obvious contenders, but I’m going to aim for a bigger payoff and invest my money in The Great Day (#6) (5-2).

A multiple Group 1 winner in his native Argentina, The Great Day has shown flashes of potential since arriving in North America. In his U.S. debut, a strong edition of the Prince George’s County Stakes at Laurel Park, he had plenty of run turning for home, but never got a clear path and had to steady repeatedly while shifting lanes and searching for room. With a clean run, he might have challenged for victory.

The Great Day received a better trip in the 1 3/16-mile Arlington Handicap (G3) on July 13 and rallied from midpack to finish second behind Bandua, who gave the race a form boost by returning to finish third in the Arlington Million (G1).

As the lone East Coast shipper in the Del Mar Handicap field, The Great Day might find the competition a bit easier on Saturday, since California-based grass runners tend to be a cut below the division elite. He’ll pick up the services of Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez and should get a bit of pace to run at thanks to Acclimate (#9) (12-1) and Ritzy A. P. (#2) (12-1), two speedy front runners who figure to vie for early supremacy.

If The Great Day starts at a fair price (4-1 or higher in my opinion, representing a 20% chance of winning), I’d be happy to place a sizable win bet and call it a day. But if his odds dip lower (or if you want to seek a bigger payoff), you might also key him in the exacta with Marckie’s Water and United.


$10 to win on #6 The Great Day
$2 exacta: 6 with 4,5 ($4)
$3 exacta: 4,5 with 6 ($6)

Good luck!

PHOTO: Del Mar ©Benoit Photo

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